While many of you were busy fretting over P.J. Washington’s injured foot, Kentucky football players were making money. Personnel from all 32 NFL teams were in attendance for UK Pro Day 2019, and now that I’ve had some time to digest what went down at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility Friday morning, I can safely say it was one of my favorite experiences on the job.
On New Year’s Day we saw the culmination of the players’ hard work in the form of a Citrus Bowl win. For some, Friday morning gave them a chance to prove to NFL officials how much they are worth. For everybody else, it was a comic-con for football nerds. Before I nerd out, here’s who made serious money.
There Goes Lonnie
Not many of the players who attended the NFL Combine attempted to improve their numbers at UK Pro Day. Benny Snell retried the vertical leap, Darius West ran the 3 cone drill and Derrick Baity and Lonnie Johnson Jr. ran the 40-yard dash.
Johnson captured every scouts’ attention at the Senior Bowl. His size and physicality set him apart from the rest of the pack. The only question mark on Lonnie’s rap-sheet was his speed. Confident he could post a 4.4 40-yard dash, he failed to meet that mark at the NFL Combine, coming in at 4.52. Unlike the laser-timed combine, pro day times are all clocked by hand. The slowest time was 4.45, with his best cracking a new milestone at 4.39.
When I saw the time on my stopwatch, my jaw dropped. I turned to Freddie Maggard who was wide-eyed in disbelief. NFL scouts shared that sentiment. The once quiet bleachers were buzzing with conversation until the next participant went to the line. Days later they’re still talking about it.
Might have been a record number of top NFL personnel men for a @UKFootball pro day last week. And they saw CB Lonnie Johnson (6-2, 210) put on a show. I think he has chance now to go Round 1 with teammate Josh Allen. Tall corner with speed (4.45 40).
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) March 25, 2019
If you thought people were shocked at Johnson’s time, they were floored when Westry crossed the finish line. The undeniable MVP of UK Pro Day, as soon as Westry exploded out of his stance, you know something crazy was happening. Vince Marrow’s reaction sums it up best:
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) March 22, 2019
On Westry’s second attempt he ran a 4.37, no big deal. His vertical leap may have been more impressive than either run. The cornerback nearly cleared the entire rack on his second jump. His teammates could not have been happier.
Chris Westry’s teammates went nuts when he jumped 38 inches in the vertical leap. pic.twitter.com/9RWtMGQYnZ
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) March 22, 2019
After an excellent start to his Kentucky career, Westry failed to finish with a bang. Even so, his athleticism is undeniably amazing, especially for a 6’4″ cornerback. His raw numbers will get him a shot at playing for an NFL team, whether it’s as a late round draft pick or a free agent, somebody is going to take a chance on Westry.
Eli Capilouto, Cheerleader
Before Kentucky’s president departed for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament in Raleigh, Eli Capilouto stopped by the Nutter Field House to supports UK’s outgoing seniors. Capilouto wasn’t just making an appearance, he was cheering on the Wildcats.
Seated on the turf near the finish line, I heard somebody behind me say under their breath, “Come on George. Beat five seconds. Come on!”
When I turned around, I was surprised to see Capilouto was the person cheering on “Big” George Asafo-Adjei. I wasn’t surprised to hear Capilouto cheering on the players. I was surprised he knew what George needed to surpass. After posting a 5.03 in his first 40-yard dash, a sub-five second 40 would make him one of the fastest offensive linemen in the draft.
With a little help from President Capilouto, Big George ran a 4.93. Compared to those who were invited to the NFL Combine, he would have been the fourth-fastest offensive lineman.
Big George’s 40-yard dash wasn’t even his best drill. The offensive tackle logged 34 benchpress reps, rather easily too, which would have tied him for second at the NFL Combine. He also had a 30-inch vertical leap. That’s a half-inch higher than Benny Snell, and George is a hair shy of 6’5″ 300 pounds. Incredible.
Right Where C.J. Conrad Belongs
It’s difficult to articulate how great it was to see C.J. Conrad back on the football field with a smile on his face. A consummate professional and an excellent teammate, even though he was limited to just route running, his energy was infectious. Just watch him while Big George hits the bench.
That enthusiasm is the perfect reflection of Conrad’s character. When I spoke to Conrad after he picked up a sweat on the football field, he spoke about the tumultuous two and a half weeks where his football future was up in the air. He was distraught not because of what could potentially be lost. He was heartbroken for his parents. Thinking of others first, that’s the kind of guy C.J. Conrad is.
Pro Day Tips
Conrad did not give specific advice, other than a ton of applause and encouragement. Others gave more direct tips to help them achieve their best results.
Defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc gave Tymere DuBose advice we should all use: “Listen with your eyes.” The advice Dorian Baker got from Lonnie Johnson during the vertical leap isn’t quite as relatable: “There’s money up there.”
Nick Haynes, One More Time
Weight loss from diabetic complications took Haynes out of contention to make an NFL roster. The offensive guard looked like a tight end when he went through pro day in 2018. Determined to get a shot at the NFL, Haynes got his weight back up to 277, all while keeping his freakish athleticism.
— Nicholas Haynes (@The_NHaynes) March 11, 2019
There was another blast from the past at pro day. Former Louisville Cardinal Kyle Bolin was the quarterback throwing to Haynes, Conrad, Baker and David Bouvier. After one errant throw during defensive back drills, one quick-witted player muttered, “That’s why he went to Louisville.”
Nobody’s Cooler than Josh Allen
For some, the draft process is filled with anxiety over the unknown. The uncertainty can weigh heavily on a prospect, especially during impressionable moments at pro day. Meanwhile, Josh Allen is cooler than the other side of the pillow.
With a top five selection all but secured, Allen spent most of the day hanging out with his son while chatting with NFL scouts. Once he was measured, Allen performed a few interviews, then spent the rest of his time cheering on his teammates and cracking jokes with the crew. It may be hard to tell from afar, but Allen is a big goofball. The fearsome edge rusher probably enjoys messing with people just as much as he loves terrorizing quarterbacks. Once he caught me daydreaming, with a 1,000-yard stare pointed in his direction. I snapped out of it only after he waved me down with a goofy face.
Allen had informal conversations with the Cardinals, 49ers, Giants and a slew of others. Vince Marrow spent quite a bit of time with a New York Jets official, likely talking about Allen, but last Friday the greatest pass rusher to ever wear a Kentucky jersey wasn’t too concerned about his future. He was simply happy to be hanging out with his friends one final time in Lexington.
“It kinda sucks. I’m going to miss all these guys. I lived with these guys. I went to war with these guys for four years,” Allen said. “It’s going to be hard, but everybody’s going on to better things.”
It’s the last time we’ll see this entire class at the UK football facility all at once. Like their accomplishments on the football field for Kentucky, their pro day was an unprecedented success. Never has there been more NFL officials in Lexington at once, thanks to this group.